The champagne sparkled and fizzed, but it was the shop talk that kept things popping at Ambrosia-Grand Teton Chalet, site of the Master Chorale of Orange County's opening-night gala to honor supporters.
"I was nervous up there," admitted actress and singer Nancy Dussault, a guest performer with the chorale on Saturday night when it launched its season at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. "These one-night situations are hard. I didn't learn the music until last week."
Dussault said it was the first time she had performed the song "Memory" from "Cats," the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. "And it's a hard song to sing--the words are tricky," she said. "A friend called and asked if I was going to write the words on my hand. I told him 'no. I'd never done that!' But I did end up singing a line from one of my songs twice."
Soprano Pamela Myers, who performed selections from Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" and "Starlight Express," said she felt guest performers had been "under-rehearsed. . . . We were backstage going over the lyrics between songs."
Both women expressed admiration for the year-old Center. "Glorious. Gorgeous," Myers said. "Great acoustics. But a little overwhelming when you first walk out. . . . You can hardly see to the top."
Dussault said she couldn't "get over the place. It's beautiful."
Asked by many guests about new career plans (Dussault had been the late actor Ted Knight's co-star on television's "Too Close for Comfort"), Dussault said she has been busy doing guest shots: "I just killed Cornel Wilde on 'Murder She Wrote.'
"It's so terribly sad about Ted. He was only 61. We had just been signed to do another three years on the show."
As guests mingled with performers, they dined at buffet tables embellished with scarlet and violet roses, color symbols of " 'The Power and the Passion'--the theme of the chorale's season," noted gala co-chairwoman Donna Bunce, an American beauty herself in a red suede pouf dress.
Bunce, a member of the chorale for 17 years, said that Saturday night marked the first time she had ever watched from the audience. "I've always performed," she said. But because of a recent trip to Bermuda with husband Doug, she said, she had missed too many rehearsals to perform. "I loved the chorale. . . . They were so moving," she said.
Chorale music director Maurice Allard--dashing in white tie--conducted from the orchestra pit. "Actually, I preferred it to being on the stage," he said. "I loved having all of the focus on the singers and the dancers. (Ballet dancers performed during Webber's 'Requiem.'). It's exciting for us to put all of these elements together."
Thomas R. Kendrick, president of the Center, said the chorale's combination of song with dance was fast becoming its "trademark."
"The chorale opened at the Center last year with the Joffrey ballet," Kendrick noted. "Very lovely and unusual."
After guests had dined on baron of beef and a smorgasbord of desserts--including an ultra-rich chocolate number that fooled waist-watchers with its appearance as an innocent mound of spice cake--they settled back for welcome speeches among the restaurant's moose-head decor. (Owner Michael Harrah, an avid sportsman, features alligator and Kenyan lion on his menu.)
After comments from William Ewing, chairman of the chorale board, Costa Mesa Councilman Peter Buffa proclaimed the day "Paul and Bobbie Bent Day in Costa Mesa" in recognition of the couple's support of the chorale. Paul Bent is chorale president; his wife is a relentless fund raiser for the 110-voice group.
Seen hobnobbing until midnight around the sprawling chalet: gala co-chairwoman Patty Brennan, sporting black velvet and silk, and Kathleen Rhynerson, looking radiant in an iridescent taffeta that chorale supporter Carole Follman dubbed "Emerald City green."
Also attending were Diane Ewing, Robert Follman, Linda Hanada, Gretchen Letson, Lee and Donald McNutt, John Rhynerson, Joanne Sokolski and Anne and Dr. Charles Steinmann.
Serving on the gala committee were Jean Bower, Ruth Bryan, Toni Cullop, Lorena Elston, Lynn Galt, Anthea Kjerulff, Shirley Nelson, Marla Patterson and Ro Projahn.